Ringtails have long, slender bodies from 10 to 14 inches in length with bushy, equally long black and white banded tails. The fur is a soft grayish brown with black-tipped hairs. Both the ears and eyes appear oversized, and the latter are outlined in white making them seem even larger. The legs are short, and the hind feet can be rotated 180 degrees like those of a tree squirrel, enabling the animal to descend vertical surfaces. Weights vary from 2 to 2 ½ pounds, the males being slightly larger than the females. Primarily a night-time animal, ringtails can be extremely bold and unconcerned about the presence of humans. Calls consist of a repertoire of barks, chirps, growls, howls, and yips.
Ringtails are found in rocky areas throughout Arizona with about the only areas devoid of ringtails being flat, alluvial valleys.
The ringtail’s diet varies with the seasons but usually consists of small mammals, birds, lizards, and insects, as well as plant fruits, e.g., tomatillo berries. In farm areas, the ringtail may be an important predator on chickens and other poultry. Generally, four young are born in the spring.
Hunting and Trapping History
Ringtail cats are not a target species for trappers and usually taken incidentally. With the decline in the number of trappers, as well as the prohibition on the use of foot hold traps, the number of ringtail cats taken statewide has declined significantly to less than 50 animals a year.